From Manti Te’o to Jaylon Smith and Te’Von Coney, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish having taken pride in starting a young, highly recruited linebacker early into his college career, and watching him blossom into an NFL prospect. Coney fits the same mold and was rated as a top-15 linebacker recruit who was a two-time All-State performer. Coney was able to get on the field as a freshman and progressed into a third-team All-American by his senior. How did he impact his draft stock at Notre Dame, and would he be a fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Coney has enough size and strength to hang around in the NFL. He is not an elite athlete, but has enough explosiveness and speed to show range that can get to the sideline. Coney is typically a downhill player, though and uses sound technique to shed blocks and make tackles near the line of scrimmage. His best attribute may be his mental side, where he can pick up on run keys to get ahead of blocks, and spot drop well in zone without getting out of place. Coney is likely better in a zone-system where he can read the quarterback and break on the ball, but his combination of size and speed allows him to carry tight ends up the field, and chase running backs out of the backfield.
The biggest question for Coney physically will come down to his flexibility and body fluidity. His biggest issue holding down the middle of the field are his change of direction skills. He is a downhill player who can shoot gaps. However, when he misses, he will not recover quickly enough to get back in the play. This is where his man coverage can test his abilities, as he can struggled to gear down and speed back up to follow his man. While Coney is a smart player, he can almost play by the book too often. This can lead him to get caught waiting to react at the second level, and also can cause him to break late on misdirection.
A good fit in the NFL for Te’Von Coney would be in a role similar to Anthony Walker of the Indianapolis Colts. Walker came out of Northwestern with good size and instincts for the positon. He was smart in coverage and found the ball often against the run. However, similarly to Coney he lacked the fluidity in his change of direction which limits his upside. Fortunately, he found a good fit in Indianapolis starting next to Darius Leonard. Leonard is known as a long, fast and rangy linebacker who can make plays. Walker is a good sidekick because while he cannot make the plays, he does maintain his gaps and brings strong tackling and understanding to the table. This is where Coney would fit best. He may not be the play maker who freelances and gets into the backfield. However, he can do his job and when asked to do specific things can do them. He could find a role as a perfect sidekick in the middle of an NFL teams defense.
Fit fot Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers biggest issue at linebacker is that they have a bunch of sidekicks, and no big name to make plays. Jon Bostic can do a lot of what Coney can do. Coney may be a touch faster, and obviously is younger, but they are not gaining much stylistically. With this in mind Coney is a player who could help the Steelers, but is not the answer to their questions at linebacker. He could slowly move into the role Bostic had last year and give them a long term solution. However, that could be the extent to his upside in Pittsburgh. Of course, Coney will not be taken with the 20th pick and would likely fall to their second or third selection. If the Steelers were to miss on linebacker early, knowing Coney is a safe option to fallback on makes him an intriguing proposition in the second or third round.